By: Joe Grimm

E&P’s Annual Career Guide|PAGE 1, 2

by Joe Grimm

The stack of paper that Lucy Chin carried in her arms helps explain the sheaf of job postings tacked to your office bulletin board. At the very least, her papers should tell newspapers that they are not alone. Everyone is having turnover headaches.

Chin is executive director of the University of Michigan’s Executive Education Program. The papers in her arms were surveys on which 5,000 top executives and managers blackened-the-circles next to issues that keep them awake at night. Choosing from an insomnia-inducing menu of 45 pressing problems, managers from across the broad landscape of American business ranked “attracting, developing, and keeping good people” as their top concern.

So clearly is talent their top concern that the gap to the next closest issue – thinking and planning strategically – is one of the widest on the list. Michigan’s Executive Education Program is using those surveys to design courses that address managers’ key concerns.

Those worries are the same ones that are making newspaper executives call each other, compare notes at corporate meetings, and post questions in their e-mail.

“Has turnover increased at your paper, too?”

Yes. And get used to it. It’s going to be an issue for 20 years.

“Are the dot-coms raiding your staff?”

Yes, but they’re having trouble holding onto people, too.

“Do you have any good candidates for us?”

Fewer and fewer.

High turnover is not exclusive to newspapers, it is not a creation of the Internet, and it is not a blip caused by a strong economy.

Turnover will continue

John Epperheimer knows newspapers. His father started as a printer’s devil and stayed at the same paper for 51 years, and Epperheimer himself has been an editor at the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, worked at a start-up, and is now president of the Workpath Group, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm in Santa Clara, Calif.

At a meeting of Knight Ridder human-resource executives, he said, “Newspapers – when you consider what they do – are stunningly oblivious to what is going on with the rest of the world. Turnover is going to be with us for the rest of our careers.”

He and other analysts say that newspapers, like all companies, are at the beginning of a 20-year period of high turnover. It is being driven by two factors: demographics and a new career paradigm that includes frequent job changes.

Chin and her colleagues in Michigan’s Executive Education Program are using the findings from their “Pressing Problems” survey to construct a course and materials, and they believe that these problems will stay near the top of the list for years to come.

Let’s take demographics first. Lower birth rates from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s mean there are not enough people entering the labor market to replace the ones who are leaving. Rapid job growth exacerbates the problems of a shrinking labor pool.

While Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan can dial interest rates up or down to fine-tune the economy, he can’t do anything about the birth rate, and he is concerned about that. He said, “The limiting factor to continuing growth and prosperity in the United States is people. There are simply not enough people to feed the machine.”

Labor shortages drive turnover. Beverly Kaye, co-author of “Love ’em or Lose ’em: Getting Good People to Stay,” has spent 20 years as an organizational consultant and says she has never seen higher turnover than today’s. And, she adds, it’s only going to get worse.

Speaking to managers from automotive, banking, health care, communication, and other industries, she predicted “a talent-scrunched world,” where “we are going to be raiding each other’s talent pools like there is no tomorrow.”

Yes, newspapers feel that they especially have the hot breath of dot-coms on their necks, but even new media have their challenges holding onto people. Microsoft, the mother of all dot-coms, is concerned about holding onto its talent, said Kaye. “Microsoft is not the place it used to be,” she said.

Changing relationships between boss, employee

Epperheimer said there is more to the turnover than a worker shortage. He said it is symptomatic of a fundamental change in the relationship between workers and employers. “Employees are in the driver’s seat as never before, and they are demanding much,” he said. Tenure is truncated as workers jump from job to job and career to career to get what they want.

According to a poll of 2,500 college students and recent graduates, 78% said they planned to stay in their first job three years or less, with 58% expecting to move within two years. Only 17% said they planned to stick around five years or more. Another survey, by, said four out of 10 people are likely to change jobs in the next year.

A work force that changes jobs every three years will mean twice the turnover – and double the expense – of a work force that changes jobs every six.

The cost of turnover is staggering, and largely unmeasured. The cost every time someone announces they’re leaving ranges from 50% to 200% of annual compensation. Expenses include hard costs – such as moving costs, interview trips, orientation, and overtime – as well as soft costs, such as loss of institutional knowledge, stress on the remaining workers, and loss of expertise to the competition.

Bruce Tulgan, author of “Managing Generation X,” points to another demographic trend that will keep this at the top of agenda. Once written off as slackers, Generation X, now between the ages of 23 and 35, numbers 40 million and will dominate the work force for years to come. He says that hearts and minds will be won by companies that best answer this question: “What can you offer me, not just in the way of money, but in marketable skills and exposure to decision-makers and opportunities to prove myself and collect proof of my ability to add value?”

Epperheimer sees the loyalty pendulum as being somewhere in the middle, at neither the one extreme of paternalistic security-for-loyalty nor the other extreme of complete free agency. He said it is somewhere in the middle, where workers and employers stay together as long as there is mutual benefit.

Kaye said that, while much is made of the difference between Baby Boomer and Gen X work ethics, she finds that both want the same thing: respect, a chance to create, a sense of value. What is different, she says, is the way the two generations act when they don’t get what they want. Kaye, a Boomer, says: “If we don’t get those things, we whine. If they don’t get those things, they walk.”

Story continues on next page

Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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